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Contemporary Drama  
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In Torch Song Trilogy and the later trio of plays, Safe Sex, Fierstein is strongest in the more experimental pieces, like "Fugue in a Nursery," a comic dramatization of a doomed weekend in the country with the central character, Arnold; his beautiful eighteen-year-old lover; his bisexual ex-lover, Ed; and Ed's too-well-meaning wife.

Fierstein sets his series of misalliances in a stylized, giant bed and, as the title suggests, presents them in counterpoint to music played by a chamber ensemble. The bed, which dwarfs the characters, playfully emphasizes the various permutations of sexual desire that are bound to doom this weekend house party.

He is weakest in the realistic final pieces of the trilogies, which present conflicts between the grieving Fierstein character and strong women who rob him of his right to mourn and refuse to validate his loving gay relationships.

At their best, Fierstein's short plays are funny, insightful satires of the romantic dysfunctions of urban gay men in the age of gay liberation. They are also ardent pleas for assimilation and presage what became a central gay concern in the 1990s, the right of lesbians and gay men to see their households, including their biological and adopted children, as legitimate, legally protected families.

AIDS Dramas

Since Torch Song Trilogy, the majority of gay drama has centered on AIDS, the virus that has ironically both decimated and galvanized the gay community. Though AIDS dramas have been written in many countries by playwrights like Michel Tremblay (Quebec), Copi (France), Colin Thomas (Canada), and Andy Kirby (England), it is the U.S. playwrights whose work has become known worldwide.

Larry Kramer

The central figure in AIDS drama is Larry Kramer, polemicist, AIDS activist, and playwright. Kramer's highly personal, passionate though problematic plays have become the object of much critical controversy.

In both The Normal Heart (1985) and The Destiny of Me (1992), the central character, Ned Weeks, is a barely veiled version of the playwright; the other characters are as close to their real-life counterparts as the law allows.

The Normal Heart chronicles gay politics in New York at the beginning of the AIDS pandemic. The play attacks gay men for continuing to see promiscuity as the center of gay political and personal agendas, even after the discovery of the AIDS virus, and lacerates the government, particularly the New York City government, for maliciously ignoring the devastation of the gay community.

The passionate political scenes are set in counterpoint to the sentimental depiction of the loving relationship of Ned and an HIV-infected man. Ned and Felix become star-crossed lovers in a relationship doomed by AIDS, as Ned is expelled from the gay organizations he founded for telling his friends the truth about their self-destructive sex lives.

Kramer sees his alter ego, Ned, simultaneously as Romeo and as Dr. Stockmann in Ibsen's Enemy of the People. There is always a contradictory combination of political activism and a sense of fate in Kramer's plays.

In The Destiny of Me (1992), Ned Weeks, hospitalized himself, is cut off from the activist groups he founded. Alone in his room at the embattled National Institutes of Health, Ned relives his relationships with his parents, his beloved older brother, and his younger self. In this powerful but problematic play, the influence of Eugene O'Neill, which looms large, places a naturalistic determinism against the sense of self-creation and political activism Kramer seems to want to embrace.

Paul Rudnick

Paul Rudnick, like Kramer, achieved early fortune, if not fame, in film. The lightness of his Jeffrey (1992) is the opposite of the Sturm und Drang of Kramer's plays. Rudnick manages to present gay life in New York City in the age of AIDS both hilariously and compassionately.

Jeffrey is a rarity--an AIDS play without pathos. Jeffrey, a would-be actor but mostly waiter who has devoted much of his energies to the joyful pursuit of sex, decides that the only response to the angst of the AIDS era is to become celibate. Finally, on the advice of friends, counselors, frustrated admirers, and a horny priest who tells him, "There is only one real blasphemy--the refusal of joy," Jeffrey decides to embark on a passionate encounter with a gorgeous, HIV-positive man he has been running from throughout the play.

Along the way, Jeffrey's travels take him through many of the institutions of contemporary gay life--gyms, self-help groups, sex clubs, and memorial services--all of which Rudnick treats to good-natured satire. With rave reviews from mainstream critics, Jeffrey has become, like The Boys in the Band and Torch Song Trilogy, a popular success with gay and straight audiences.

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